Happy 10th anniversary, Top Chef! Traditionally, when you're celebrating an entire decade, the gift to get is tin or aluminum foil. I bet the producers are pretty angry that they're currently sponsored by San Pellegrino not Reynolds and can't orchestrate some ridiculous product tie-in to go along with it. Oh well, congrats anyway.
The chefs are headed back to Los Angeles, which seems like home base despite this season being billed as a culinary road trip. While Kwame Onwuachi is waxing romantic about surprising Padma Lakshmi with a wine and cheese picnic and a new Yorkie, everyone else is feeling relieved to be back in Los Angeles after a relatively tough, beer-related challenge in San Diego.
In the kitchen, the judges are greeted by Padma as well as Top Chef alum Antonia Lofaso, who is judging this Quickfire Challenge. Antonia confesses that she threw up before every Quickfire when she was on the show. Hey, just like me before I go on a date or get on a scale!
With ten chefs remaining in the competition, for this challenge, each chef must grab one item from the pantry, and then they each have 20 minutes to make a dish using only those 10 ingredients. This is an easy challenge to sabotage for everyone else, I think. Phillip Frankland Lee is up first which feels like a real gamble. He's probably going to come back with like, shredded tempeh or beef hearts or just a plastic bag full of refrigerated air. Thankfully, he returns with New York prime beef. Crisis averted. Isaac Toups is next, and you'd think he'd go for a great herb or vegetable or seasoning, but instead he grabs a whole chicken. You already have a protein, you don't need another. One is enough, these aren't glasses of wine.
The rest of the chefs have their runs through the pantry, Chad White grabs jalapeño peppers, Jeremy Ford thinks strategically and grabs salt. Marjorie Meek-Bradley gets vinegar and Karen Akunowicz gets olive oil. Of course, leave it to the women to take care of everyone and make sure the group is prepared to actually cook something. Kwame gets garlic, Amar Santana picks up mushrooms, and Carl Dooley grabs tomatoes. Last to go is Jason Stratton. Everyone was hoping for different things —maybe a great vegetable or more seasoning. He gets celery. The chefs seem disappointed, but this looks like a smart item. Maybe not an essential tenth item for the challenge, but still super useful. It's not like he grabbed a third meat.
Jeremy is, once again, doing a raw dish, which elicits a pretty big eye-roll from Amar. He's not wrong though, this is at least the fourth raw dish we've seen from Jeremy this season and it's barely halfway through. The two of them end up running around the kitchen for a while in search of tomatoes because Carl seems to be hoarding all of them for his confit. Smells like possible sabotage.
Padma and Antonia taste everyone's dishes. One low spot in the challenge is Isaac's beef carpaccio with shaved jalapeño. It's not quite refined enough, but also he is the one who picked the chicken. That should be the definition of insanity. Another miss is Karen's grilled steak salad with celery. Favorites of the challenge are Jeremy's shaved beef tataki with mushroom and crispy garlic vinaigrette and Amar's wood roasted chicken with tomato celery vinaigrette. Jeremy wins the challenge, which of course annoys Amar. I hope this blossoms into a full on feud, but I doubt it will because they both seem like normal, competent professionals who know better. What a snoozefest.
So with the emphasis on the number ten and an alum judging the Quickfire, Padma finally reveals that this is all because it's the tenth anniversary of the first season of Top Chef. What a wild ride it's been! Cue Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" and a photo montage of memories. Okay they didn't do that, but it would have been terrific if they had. This means the show started airing in the long-forgotten year of 2006. It was a time when Avian flu was the world's biggest threat, Britney Spears filed for divorce from the Popozao himself, Kevin Federline, and everyone had a Zune.
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are tasked with creating a dish that showcases where they were a decade ago. Kind of fitting that this aired on a Thursday for Throwback Thursday. Think that was planned or was this just a match made in hashtag heaven?
If I had to make a dish showing where I was ten years ago, it would be a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and milk with some boxed Chablis that accidentally got in there because I was done with college and had no idea what I was doing with my life. Thankfully, I finally found my true calling in writing about what happened the night before on a deep cable reality cooking competition.
Marjorie is roughly my age as she explains that ten years ago she had just finished culinary school (we also kind of look alike, which has made viewing this show with even the slightest buzz a little confusing). Because she was so green in the profession then, she decides to make a green curry. This is a great idea and excellent interpretation of the challenge. At Whole Foods, though, she notices they don't have lemongrass, a key ingredient in green curry sauce. She decides to go forward with the dish anyway and grills lemons to try and replicate the flavor.
After the first day of prep the chefs retire to the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel for a rooftop barbecue which devolves into everyone doing impressions of Tom Colicchio. That's what this show should be. The whole hour should have just been those impressions. Nothing is more fun than impressions.
The chefs were all in very different places ten years ago. Isaac was recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Chad was fresh off his stint in the military and living by the beach. And Kwame was just a ten year old kid beginning the painful process of pulling away from his not-so-great father.
Tom and and other Top Chef alum Michael Voltaggio enter the kitchen to check in on everyone's progress. They chat with Amar, who is doing a signature dish of his mentor, Gerry Hayden, who he was working with ten years ago. This fall, Gerry passed away from A.L.S., though at the time of taping he was still alive, yet sick. Amar's dish was a tribute to him, and all three of the men sit in the emotional moment before the judges move on.
When Tom and Michael visit Phillip, he starts spouting out garbage about how since being on the show he mostly has to cook what the judges want and cook to make them happy based on their preferences. It takes Tom probably every fiber of his being not to just laugh in his face and immediately send him home.
Kwame is struggling the most with the challenge because his memories of his life ten years ago aren't exactly fond. It was a clearly difficult time for him, and he can't keep his head in the competition while he's preoccupied with those thoughts. Inspired by his father's Jamaican background, he's doing jerk broccoli, a twist on the traditional chicken. He's so distracted that he cuts his finger open while slicing vegetables. It's a huge departure from his performance in the last few episodes.
The judges and diners come in and are seated, chef's table style, in the middle of the kitchen. Judging along with Padma and Tom are Gail Simmons and Richard Blais. In addition to the fab four are Antonia and last season's winner, Mei Lin (oh hey girl!), as well as several notable Los Angeles chefs and restaurant owners. Gail and Tom are reminiscing about the challenges of that first season and the minuscule budgets at that time. Padma seems left out, because season one was actually hosted by former wife of Billy Joel and the original slow talker, Katie Lee.
First up are Marjorie and Chad. The judges absolutely love her halibut with grilled and roasted vegetables and green curry sauce. It's flavorful, well-executed, and overall just satisfying to eat for all of the judges. They also greatly enjoy Chad's bright, fresh ceviche with shrimp, tomato concasse, shrimp cracker, and capers.
The next pair is Isaac and Jason. While the judges love the warmth and heartiness of Isaac's duck gumbo with roasted jalapeño, andouille sausage, and duck cracklins, they just can't get on board with Jason's poached trout with toasted beets and spring vegetable salad. The dish doesn't make sense and the fish is severely underseasoned.
Karen's orecchiette with pork ragu and broccoli rabe doesn't impress the judges, though Amar's butter poached lobster with bok choy and coconut curry absolutely does. They also love Carl's fricasse of escargot with spring garlic puree. Phillip's ceviche mixto, apparently inspired by a Peruvian ex-girlfriend's family, is too fishy and muddled, especially when it's compared to Chad's excellent version from earlier. Phillip tries to defend himself at the table but just sounds like an idiot.
Two shocking and brutal misses also come from Jeremy and Kwame. The table is confused by Jeremy's lobster ravioli with shellfish sauce and salmon. The dish just objectively doesn't seem to make sense. Kwame knows going in that he's got a dud on his hands with his jerk broccoli with cornbread pudding and smoky bleu cheese. He let his emotions get the best of him. Dude, I get it. It's called being a woman and it's a daily nightmare.
At the Judges' Table, Padma announces that the top three dishes of the evening belonged to Carl, Marjorie, and Chad. They were all executed well, tasty, and clearly tapped into the challenge. The winner for the night, though, is Marjorie. She's not so green anymore because this is her second win on the show. I don't necessarily like playing favorites, but I'm rooting for her to get to the end. Oh who am I kidding, playing favorites is the best. Go Marjorie.
The bottom three of the evening are Jason, Kwame, and Phillip. Pretty sure Jeremy would have made the cut, but he had immunity from the Quickfire. Tom notes that this is normally the point in the competition where chefs start to get sent home for good dishes, but that's not the case tonight. All three of these dishes were just bad. After what I imagine was a pretty tough decision, Jason is eliminated. Hopefully he can head back home, regroup, and regain the confidence he lost in these last few episodes.